Holy Willie's Prayer
Robert Burns, (1759-1796)
  • Holy Willie was William Fisher, an elder of the parish kirk at Mauchline Parish, Ayrshire, who had been mainly responsible for
  • raising proceedings against sundry of the parishioners for habitually missing church services.
  • The satire of this poem needs no comment, nor did Burns misrepresent the man, as Holy Willie was afterwards found guilty of
  • secreting money from the church offerings. His miserable life ended when he fell into a ditch on his way home after a debauch.
  • OH Thou, wha in the heavens dost dwell!
  • Wha, as it pleases best thysel',
  • Sends ane to heaven, and ten to hell,
  • A' for thy glory,
  • And no' for ony gude or ill
  • They've done afore thee!
  • I bless and praise thy matchless might,
  • When thousands thou hast left in night,
  • That I am here afore thy sight,
  • For gifts and grace,
  • A burnin' an' a shinin' light
  • To a' this place!
  • What was I, or my generation,
  • That I should get sic exaltation?
  • I, wha deserve sic just damnation
  • For broken laws,
  • Five thousand years 'fore my creation,
  • Thro' Adam's cause!
  • When frae my mither's womb I fell,
  • Thou might hae plungèd me in hell,
  • To gnash my gums, to weep and wail,
  • In burnin' lake,
  • Where damnèd devils roar and yell,
  • Chain'd to a stake.
  • Yet I am here a chosen sample,
  • To show thy grace is great and ample;
  • I'm here a pillar in thy temple,
  • Strong as a rock,
  • A guide, a buckler, and example,
  • To a' thy flock.
  • O Lord thou kens what zeal I bear,
  • When drinkers drink, and swearers swear,
  • And singin' there, and dancin' here,
  • Wi' great an' sma';
  • For I am keepet by thy fear,
  • Free frae them a'.
  • But yet, o Lord! confess I must,
  • At times I'm fash'd wi' fleshly lust;
  • And sometimes too wi' warldly trust,
  • Vile self gets in;
  • But thou remembers we are dust,
  • Defil'd in sin.
  • 0 Lord! yestreen, thou kens, wi' Meg-
  • Thy pardon I sincerely beg-
  • O may it ne'er be a livin' plague
  • To my dishonour,
  • An' I'll ne'er lift a lawless leg
  • Again upon her.
  • Besides, I farther maun allow,
  • Wi? Leezie's lass, three times I trow;
  • But, Lord, that Friday I was fou,
  • When I came near her,
  • Or else, thou kens, thy servant true
  • Wad ne'er hae steer'd her.
  • Maybe thou lets this fleshly thorn,
  • Beset thy servant e'en and morn,
  • Lest he owre high and proud should turn,
  • 'Cause he's, sae gifted;
  • If sae, thy han'maun e'n be borne,
  • Until thou lift it
  • Lord, bless thy chosen in this place,
  • For here thou hast a chosen race:
  • But God confound their stubborn face,
  • And blast their name,
  • Wha bring thy elders to disgrace
  • An'public shame !
  • Lord, mind Gawn Hamilton' deserts,
  • He drinks, and swears, an' plays at cartes,
  • Yet has sae mony takin' arts,
  • Wi' grit an' sma',
  • Frae God's ain priests the people's hearts
  • He steals awa'.
  • An' when we chasten'd him therefor,
  • Thou kens how he bred sic a splore,
  • As set the warld in a roar
  • O' laughin' at us:-
  • Curse thou his basket and his store,
  • Kail an' potatoes!
  • Lord, hear my earnest cry an' pray'r,
  • Against that Presbyt'ry of Ayr;
  • Thy strong right hand, Lord, mak' it bare
  • Upo' their heads!
  • Lord, weigh it down, and dinna spare,
  • For their misdeeds!
  • Oh Lord my God, that glib-tongued Aiken,
  • My very heart an' saul are quakin',
  • To think how we stood sweatin', shakin',
  • An' pish'd wi' dread,
  • While Auld wi' hingin' lip and snakin',
  • Held up his head.
  • Lord, in the day of vengeance try him!
  • Lord, visit them wha did employ him!
  • And pass not in thy mercy by them,
  • Nor hear their prayer;
  • But for thy people's sake destroy them,
  • And dinna spare!
  • But, Lord, remember me and mine,
  • Wi' mercies temp'ra'l and divine,
  • That I for gear and grace may shine,
  • Excell'd by nane,
  • An' a' the glory shall be thine,
  • Amen, Amen!
  • Notes
  • onie: any
  • fash'd: troubled
  • steer'd: interfered with, had sex with
  • Gavin Hamilton was Burns's laird and close friend who not only
  • occasionally absented himself from church meetings but was known to dig
  • potatoes in his garden on Sundays!
  • splore: riot
  • Aitken was another friend of Burns.
  • Auld was the minister at Mauchline.
  • gear: riches, goods of any kind
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